Navigating the onscreen setup menus is a straightforward process, and we'd recommend making the effort, because the factory default setting delivers only stereo sound from multichannel SACDs. The small, gray plastic remote sports the usual array of large, well-labeled buttons, except one: the repeat button. That function is available only via onscreen menus--call us old-fashioned, but we prefer the one-touch approach.
The 588A's bass management works equally well with SACDs and DVD-As, so the player can be used with high-quality satellite/subwoofer systems. That said, for best results, we recommend you use satellite speakers with 4-inch or larger woofers. Compatibility is the Pioneer DV-588A's forte. This little unit plays SACD, DVD-Audio, DivX, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, and JPEG still-photo discs, as well as the full array of recordable DVD formats with the exception of DVD-RAM. It also features built-in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoders, but we recommend using your receiver's decoders, if only because they probably offer more fine-tuning options.
Regarding the new DualDisc (CD-DVD) format, Pioneer isn't making any promises of disc compatibility: the user manual states, "Since audio content on the 'non-DVD' [CD] side of a DualDisc is not compliant with the Compact Disc Digital Audio specification, it may or may not be played in this product." For kicks, we tried the few DualDiscs we had on hand, and they played without any problems.
Connectivity choices include progressive/component, composite-, and S-Video outputs; one each coaxial and optical digital audio outputs; and 5.1 analog audio outputs; plus a set of stereo analog outs.
Note: Before you buy this or any SACD/DVD-Audio player, make sure your A/V receiver has 5.1/multichannel analog inputs. The DV-588A's multichannel analog outputs are the only way to send SACD/DVD-A sound to your receiver. The digital audio outputs transmit only CD and DVD (Dolby/DTS) audio data. SACD and DVD-A discs aren't always in surround; there are, in fact, a surprising amount of high-quality stereo transfers on the market. Jazz trumpet player Chet Baker's Chet SACD was recorded in the early stereo days, but the sound from the Pioneer DV-588A is so dramatically holographic that we had to check to make sure it wasn't remixed to 5.1 surround--it wasn't. When we compared the SACD to the CD of the same music, we were surprised by the degree of improvement the SACD offered. The SACD's soundstage was bigger and deeper, and the instruments had a rounder, more lifelike tone.
DVD-Audio discs, such as Mark Knopfler's newly remastered Shangri-La, offered a remarkably clear "picture" of the band. The acoustic guitars resembled the sound of a live guitarist, and Knopfler's voice was more humanly present. This disc's sound is among the best we've heard so far--it's so pure and direct that it reminds us of the advantages HDTV has over regular TV. (See our "Top 10 must-have SACD/DVD-Audio" list for more great discs.)
We next put the 588A up against our reference Pioneer Elite DV-45A ($700) universal player. The differences between the two Pioneer machines were audible in that the DV-45A seemed to reveal more subtle reverberation, the bass was tighter, and the treble was airier on John Hiatt's Bring the Family SACD. Hiatt's hard-drivin' rhythm section sounded as if they were in the room with us, and switching back to the 588A took the energy level down a peg or two. That said, considering the 3X-plus price differential, the 588A wasn't embarrassed by the showdown. For a $199 player, it's a stunner.
In terms of compatibility, the DV-588A is among the best we've tested. It played almost every piece of recordable media in our 40-disc test suite, stumbling only on a couple of two-year-old, badly mastered DVD-Rs. It handled MP3 files from recordable DVD discs--that's 4.7GB of MP3s if you're counting--as well as a range of DivX files from both recordable CD and DVD. Overall, progressive-scan video playback was very good, according to the Silicon Image HQV test suite, coming very close to the score of our reference Denon DVD-2900.